"Hip Pocket Sleaze: The Lurid World of Vintage Adult Paperbacks" Book Review
Written by Steve Pattee
Published by Headpress
Written by John Harrison
2011, 391 pages, Non-Fiction
Released on October 20th, 2011
For those of us who grew up in the days before internet, who didn't go on expeditions looking for your father's secret stash of adult magazines because you were tired of the Sears and/or JC Penny catalogs? Or, at the very least, you had that friend who had found his father's dirty-bird collection. I was fortunate to have both. My dad kept his collection between the mattress and box spring whereas my friend's father kept his in the back of the closet. However, the difference was my father mainly had magazines and my buddy's pop had novels. NOVELS! Sure, when you are a kid just hitting puberty you would much rather look at boobs than read about them, but there was something so taboo about an actual sex book with its naughty cover and illicit title, I found myself wishing my dad was more of a reader.
As the years went on, I pretty much forgot about those books. I got older, was able to buy my own smut and Al Gore invented the world wide web, all of which made those forbidden paperbacks no longer necessary in my life. Thankfully, John Harrison not only reminds me of the magic of those books in his Hip Pocket Sleaze: The Lurid World of Vintage Adult Paperbacks, he shows the lengths the publishers had to go to make these novels available, as well as the famous names who scribed some of these works and the impact many of the books had on the gay and lesbian community.
Hip Pocket Sleaze is much more than a listing of titles published during the golden age of adult novels. Hell, in his foreward Harrison suggests you go elsewhere for that information. While he does an admirable job with listing publishers and titles — he even reviews a fair share — the book is more of a biography of the paperbacks. Harrison discusses the writers (and interviews quite a few), the artists, touches on some of the "classic smut film rags" and even interviews a couple of collectors of the adult paperback.
There's a lot of interesting information found in the pages of Hip Pocket Sleaze. Finding out things like Lawrence Block used to write these novels was a bit surprising (although having read Block, it shouldn't have been). Sadly, Block turned down an interview saying more-or-less it was a different time and place in his life that he preferred not to go into. Robert Tralins also declined an interview, but responded with a lengthy and fascinating email on why he chose to. Ironically, it seems that his biggest problem was the title of the book, more specifically the word 'sleaze'. It's a shame too, as Tralins seemed to judge Harrison's work by its cover. That's too bad, as Tralins' input would have obviously been welcomed and Hip Pocket Sleaze is a respectful labor of love to the works as opposed to whatever Tralins thought it might be.
It's nice that Harrison also addresses the covers and the artists who made them in a dedicated section. Let's face it, it was the art that got the book in people's hands. Granted, there were authors that were sought out, but there were so many pseudonyms going on in that era, the naughty cover led the way in sales. Eventually, as the times changed, photographs replaced the highly suggestive erotica drawings, which is truly unfortunate. It's interesting to see how very close the adult novel cover was to that of the pulp fiction book, but violence and sex go hand-in-hand with both on occasion, so it makes sense.
Harrison covers a lot of ground in Hip Pocket Sleaze: The Lurid World of Vintage Adult Paperbacks. The book is incredibly well researched and is an in-depth look into a pre-internet era where sex was only mentioned behind closed doors and almost a love letter to the authors and artists that worked on these novels. While the subject may have been sleazy, Harrison's novel isn't and is instead a fascinating read on the history of something that kept me (and so many others) entertained in my teens.